Cindy Morgan Article
Posted on February 26, 2003
The Shreveport Times
Story by Diane Haag
||Cindy Morgan, MD, a missionary in Bangladesh, holds Ruel, a child with malnutrition
and dehydration. She has lived and worked in Bangladesh for more than 10
years. As prospects of war grow, some worry about anti-American sentiment
To The Times
Of the 11 countries added to the
U.S. State Department's travel warning list this month, nine are in the area
of the world most targeted by religious missionaries.
As they attempt to bring the light
of the Gospel to the dark corners of the globe, religious missionaries have
long accepted some inherent risks. While they've paid attention to travel warnings,
they have relied on their faith to protect them.
But as talk of war against Iraq intensifies
and anti-American sentiment grows, kidnappings or homicides are becoming more
of a threat to Christian missionaries.
"It will be a nightmare"
if the United States goes to war, said Bob Ellis, head of security for the Presbyterian
International Health Ministries office. "While some educated people can
separate individuals from government, so many people are desperate and believe
what they're told. They see America as belligerent and aggressive."
That doesn't mean any less conviction
by the faithful to treat wounded bodies and souls. Missionary efforts can include
direct evangelization or work such as treating the sick or building schools.
Michael Jaffarian, a researcher at
CB International, said he hasn't seen any drop in mission work. So far, he said,
Pakistan is the only country missionaries consistently have left because of
several attacks against Christians.
But organizations are keeping a close
eye on other hot spots. Few missionaries are in Iraq proper, Jaffarian said,
and those there are safer than in other Muslim countries.
"Saddam has not been very anti-Christian,"
he said. "He's been oppressive overall, but not like other Muslim countries
where Christians are singled out."
Proselytizing is illegal in many
other places, and some countries like Saudi Arabia have outlawed Christian worship.
Dr. Cindy Morgan, originally of Shreveport,
has seen the anger firsthand as a medical missionary with the Presbyterians
in Bangladesh. Generally, she describes it as a country of poor but resourceful
and welcoming people.
But as the war on terror began in
late 2001, Morgan saw a darker side of the country she has called home for 12
years. Muslim extremists gathered men off the streets weekly into angry processions
complete with effigies of President George W. Bush.
Because Christians, who make up less
than 1 percent of the population, are associated with Americans, even natives
received the anger. Morgan remembered one chant ringing through the streets:
"Catch a Christian. Cut them. Once in the morning. Once in the evening."
Her family managed to leave the country
for a short time; others stayed sequestered in their homes.
"I had never seen the community
like that," Morgan said.
An American missionary working at
a clinic in Lebanon was shot and killed in November. In December, three American
missionaries were shot to death and a fourth injured in Yemen.
The possibility of violence has led
some programs to provide more support before missionary candidates leave the
Jeanie Steadman, associate pastor
of Word of Life Center in Shreveport, has been taking short-term group mission
trips for 15 years. But in the past couple of years, she and her pastor have
prayed even more as they plan their trips, which have a strong evangelistic
A recent trip to Tanzania was postponed
twice in the past year as they waited for a safer time.
Steadman said Word of Life used to
keep training simple with an overview of local customs and the best way to carry
out work without offending anyone.
"In the last three years, we
started giving safety instruction, and we've actually asked for people not to
go for their own safety," she said. "We've become a lot more selective."
All of the Presbyterian missionaries
have contingency plans and escape routes in case of civil unrest, Ellis said.
"It's a whole new day, even in Islamic countries we've worked in for decades."
Spiritual support from church members
at home also is key, said the Rev. Joe Gant of Shreveport, president of the
Baptist Missionary and Educational State Convention of Louisiana. He keeps up
with reports from the government and has asked his congregation to fast from
6 a.m to 6 p.m. every Wednesday.
"That's what it's going to take,"
Gant said. "It's time for us to go to a higher being."
Many churches take up offerings for
For those missionaries who commit
their lives to working in a country, the thought of leaving at the first sign
of trouble can seem more like selling out, Ellis said.
Morgan said she has every intention
to return to Bangladesh after her son finishes school in May. She and her husband
spent time in medical school preparing to go there. In the dozen years of their
service, she has worked with malnourished children, provided immunizations and
trained birth attendants.
In the country where most families
make 60 cents a day working in rice fields, malnutrition has been a major project
of Morgan's. "Some come in and they're just bones." She will put them
on feeding tubes and, eventually, they will get well enough to eat on their
"(Bengalis) are always amazed
at why we would want to live there," Morgan said. "It really is important
for people to be in other countries. It shrinks the world."
In some cases, convincing missionaries
to leave means convincing them the presence of Americans can do more harm than
"They want to stay with people
in time of crisis," Ellis said. "But we try to help them understand
it may put their colleagues in more crisis."
For those who conduct shorter term
missions, it is a commitment to their faith that keeps them going back.
Jack Fry, communications director
for the Louisiana/Arkansas conference of Seventh-day Adventists, looked to Jesus'
disciples who died as martyrs. "We still have an obligation to the Lord
to carry out his message."
Steadman agreed, saying she would
continue traveling even if she couldn't bring anyone with her.
"I know that part of the purpose
and destiny of my life is to share what I know about God. I don't plan for anything
to happen, but I'm prepared for anything."